What to Do When Life Stinks


To experience gratitude and joy, you sometimes have to choose not to focus on what stinks in life and instead, elevate your gaze a little higher to that which is good.

Last week I drove from Atlanta, Georgia to a suburb on the west side of Chicago, Illinois with a minivan jammed full of my possessions. Once I arrived, I was immediately grateful for the new town I will become a resident of after I marry on September 6. It’s a little slice of American history established in the early 1800s.

Downtown is small, quaint, and filled with little boutiques and narrow sidewalks where people tie their bicycles to lamp posts, and the train travels through the center of town. While on a walk, I kept waiting for Opie from Mayberry to come around the corner.

One morning after my arrival, I drove from my hotel to my new home where I picked up Clark, my soon-to-be husband, and then dropped him off at the train for work. Next, I drove back to the house and soaked in the beauty of the surroundings on the back porch. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and my heart was overflowing with gratitude. This is just a perfect day, I thought.

But then my new adopted dog, Dixie, ran next door. The neighbor girls had a ball. What Border Collie can refuse a game of soccer? As I ran after her, I apologized that Dixie was interrupting their game, took her by the collar, and ushered her back home. Just then I realized I had stepped in some dog poop. Great.

The perfection of the day faded as I stepped in that little spot of stinkiness. The beauty of the trees didn’t seem as stunning. The song birds seemed to quiet. . . all just because something small and stinky had taken over my attention.

This is a lot like life, isn’t it? Our lives can be jam packed with beauty, with a million things to be grateful for. . . a family to love, a healthy body that can get out of bed every morning, a hug, a smile, food to eat, or work to do. But then we get fixated and focused on one stinky thing in our lives and it steals our joy.

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a wise friend. “How do I keep from getting stuck in the disappointment of not having children?” I asked. Or in other words, “How do I keep from focusing on the stinkiness of life?” She answered with two simple words: “Be grateful.”

Of course! Gratitude and joy are twins, and where you find one, you find the other. To experience them, you sometimes have to choose not to focus on what stinks in life and instead, elevate your gaze a little higher to that which is good.

Philippians 4:8 says,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (emphasis mine)

Practicing gratitude isn’t just a nice thing to do to be happier. It’s not even just something to do because God says it’s a good idea. Sometimes being grateful is literally the difference between internal life and death. It’s a powerful spiritual weapon. It’s a protector of the human heart.

When we choose to be grateful, it liberates us from the devastating pain of not only the little disappointments we all experience, but also from the pain of the bigger things that threaten to internally destroy us. Gratitude lifts us above the difficulties of life and gives us a fresh, godly perspective. It helps us encourage others who are experiencing their own difficulties. It demonstrates that we trust Christ.

Perhaps today is the day to begin to master your thoughts, to take negative thoughts captive, and to practice gratitude for what you do have. Sing a song of praise. Tell God thanks. And stop focusing on what stinks.

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